All sorrows are less with bread
~ Cervantes ~
A truer thing has not been said. And Cervantes’ words from 16th century Spain has stood the test of time. The Covid-19 pandemic proved this again in 2020 as the demand for yeast skyrocketed once lockdown started. People had more time and needed something comforting and they turned to baking bread. I smugly patted my yeast container and fed my sourdough starter. I had become obsessed with baking bread at least a year before the rest of the world joined in! And indeed, my sorrows have been less, except when I have to get onto the scale. Especially when I make Focaccia!
My first introduction to focaccia was in local Italian restaurants where they serve a thin pizza base with garlic and herbs. Although this is tasty, I was very happy when I discovered what authentic focaccia actually is about. Made with more yeast and proved for a while, it rises up around the toppings and puddles of extra virgin olive oil. If your focaccia rises well it can even be sliced in half horizontally and used to make sandwiches! I used to use normal pizza dough and leave it to rise for a little longer, but since attending an artisan bread baking course with Crust and Crumb (check out their Hot Cross Bun recipe here), I have learnt to make dough especially for Focaccia. The recipe uses 90% hydration rate (percentage water) which is the secret to the beautiful open crumb and pillowy goodness.
Patience is waiting without complaining
The main thing I have learnt about baking bread from Crust and Crumb is to have patience! The longer the dough rises and ferments, the better the taste. So don’t start this Focaccia recipe two hours before you want to serve it. Start early and give the yeast time to do its thing. The reward will be worth it. The nice thing about focaccia is that you can serve it as is. No need to set out butter or toppings. Its already got it all! It’s perfect as a side dish at a braai, or to dunk into soup if you’re having a Soup & Bread dinner. It also seems to be great for lining the stomachs of young adults at house parties! Definitely an all-round crowd-pleaser.
Van Dough focaccia
If you have an Instagram account, search the hashtag #focaccia and look at some of the amazing focaccia people showcase there. They are actually works of art! My favourite is this one from the Vineyard Baker. I haven’t yet tried to decorate my focaccia so elaborately, but lockdown is continuing for a while still, so you never know!
- 517 g white bread flour (preferably unbleached stoneground flour)
- 465 g water
- 13 g salt
- 5 g yeast
- 100 ml olive oil
- garlic to taste or
- green herbs like rosemary or oreganum or
- black olives, pitted and chopped or halved or
- sundried tomato pesto or basil pesto
- 2 pinches flakey sea salt
- Mix all ingredients for the dough until everything comes together. This is a very wet dough, so do not be alarmed at this stage that the dough is very sloppy.
- Do three sets of stretch and folds* (see note) in the first hour after initial mixing - one set of stretch & fold every 20 minutes. After the last stretch & fold, the dough should be nice and elastic.
- Let the dough rise in a warm spot for about 90 minutes after the final fold. The dough should double in size.
- Use about 75ml of the olive oil and combine with your choice of toppings (except salt). Let the oil infuse while your dough rises.
- Prepare a baking tray by lining it with a silicone sheet or baking paper or grease with some olive oil.
- Drizzle about 25ml of olive oil on top of the dough before turning it out onto the baking tray. The dough should be able to move around on the baking tray due to the oil.
- Use your fingers to spread out the dough until it covers the tray. If the dough doesn't want to spread out to fill the tray, let it rest for 10 minutes and then do some more spreading out. You can also gently pick up each side of the dough and stretch it out carefully.
- Add your infused olive oil and toppings and use your fingers to make dimples in the dough. The oil should pool in the dimples. Spread out the toppings evenly.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C with the fan on if your oven has one.
- Let the dough proof for about 30-45minutes on the baking tray before baking. It should be puffing up in bubbles around your toppings.
- Sprinkle the coarse salt evenly on top of the dough just before baking. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.
- Stretch & Fold:
- The toppings you put on your focaccia is really up to you. Olive oil, garlic and green herbs are usually the basic choices with some sea salt for flavour.
- I have made my focaccia in a large rectangular baking tray. You can also use a round deep-dish pizza pan.
- I have also done a more "free form" focaccia where I used the rectangular baking tray, but I didn't stretch the dough out to the corners, just leaving it in a natural shape.
- The baker's formula (if you're into using that) is: Total Dough Weigh = 1000g, Total Percentage = 1,9, Total Flour Weight = 517g
- Flour 100%
- Water 90%
- Salt 2,5%
- Yeast 1%
- If you would prefer to use sourdough starter rather than yeast, the quantities are as follows:
- Flour 100%: 472g
- Water 90%: 424g
- Leaven 20%: 94g
- Salt 2%: 10g